The Franz Kafka Centre for The Uninvolved
By Eamonn F. Kelly
“The Franz Kafka Centre for the Uninvolved”, or the F.K.C.U., was inspired by my time on a work scheme in the Peadar O’ O’Donnell Centre for the Unemployed in Galway, Ireland, during the 1980’s recession. I worked as a social welfare adviser, “advising” unemployed people about their various options, such as, “Leave the country quick, while you’re still young”.
The book I started writing about these wonderful experiences was abandoned sometime in the Tiger boom when no one wanted to hear about the 1980’s recession, myself included.
“That’s all behind us,” we said. “No use wallowing in the past,” we said. “It’s a whole new Ireland now,” we said. “We’re not going back to all that,” we said.
I found the story again last year and I thought it was quite funny, if a little short. So I decided to release it as a kindle novella. I toyed with the idea of stretching it out into a “proper” book length, but I decided to leave well enough alone. It has a nice short-story completeness and it captures the mood of the time.
So here it is, “The Franz Kafka Centre for the Uninvolved”, cleaned up, revised, spell-checked, hair coiffed and dressed up in a snazzy new kindle.
The story is set in the future-past, in a slightly skewed, slightly parallel reality; in a strange land the people call “This Feckin Country”.
Sedge becomes involved in the Franz Kafka Centre for the Uninvolved.
Since Sedge started working in the Franz Kafka Centre for the Uninvolved, he was transformed before Kate’s eyes from a man who knew not his arse from his elbow and cared less, to an energised fast-talking lefty challenging the political sins of the world.
He had been hired by the Franz Kafka Centre on a government scheme designed to get the uninvolved involved, or at least to give them a sense of being involved. Sedge, now involved himself as a result of being recruited to get the uninvolved involved, would be working on the Uninvolved News, devising stories of interest to the uninvolved, if indeed anything could be said to be of interest to the uninvolved. Everyone knew that uninvolvement led to disengagement, and once disengaged it was difficult to reengage and thus difficult to become reinvolved. Once uninvolved and consequently disengaged the danger was that the uninvolved would remain forever uninvolved, or grossly uninvolved as it was officially termed. Sedge himself had been grossly uninvolved before he got the scheme. In fact gross uninvolvement was one of the qualification criteria for the scheme. Sedge was still in shock to find himself so suddenly involved.
Victor, the editor of the Uninvolved News, hoped that the newsletter might activate the masses of uninvolved people towards greater involvement in public affairs, perhaps even sowing the seeds of some future revolution. This idea was being more seriously explored in the Kafka Centre’s “Let’s Politicise the Masses programme, brainchild of Shay O’Gara, one of the stalwarts of the Franz Kafka central committee.
The politicisation process appeared to be working on Sedge who was in a constant fever of revolutionary activity as he began to realise how serious the uninvolvement situation actually was.
As far as Kate could see, Sedge was over-activated. He couldn’t stop talking about politics and the sins of the Deeply Deeply Irish Party, the party who were so authentically Irish that everyone who wasn’t them was considered a foreigner. The largest party in the country, The Deeply Deeply’s were renowned and admired for their cronyism, nepotism, double-dealism and general cultural vandalism and Sedge now spat their name with venom.
Kate, feeling alienated and somewhat overshadowed and often dumbed into silence by the weighty issues Sedge now entertained, announced one evening that she wasn’t happy.
All uninvolved issues took an immediate back seat in Sedge’s mind. Unhappiness in the heart of the woman in your life leaves all other issues in the shade.
“Not happy?” he said. “Why?”
“You’ve become too serious.” said Kate.
“Life is serious,” he snapped.
Kate lowered her eyes in that childish way she had of showing hurt. His heart leapt to embrace her. She was so pretty. She slaughtered him. Every time he lingered to admire her, and such moments were less frequent these days, he felt deeply amazed that she would have anything to do with him
They had met two years earlier at an open air music festival fondly remembered by all who attended for all the rain and the mud and the sliding around enjoying the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Kate had just returned from somewhere exotic with a wonderful tan. They met in the mud and sat in the mud; they slid in the mud and rolled in the mud; they fucked in the mud and finally slept in the mud. Since then they had lived happily and hippily together with barely a care in the world. But then came the Franz Kafka Centre for the Uninvolved.
Soon their social life revolved around the doings of the Franz Kafka Centre which quickly became a counter-cultural focus point and meeting place. Kate joined the Franz Kafka Women’s Collective and that, as far as Sedge was concerned, was the beginning of the end, if not the end of the beginning.
Sedge blamed Trish Flattery, stern purple feminist, for filling Kate’s head with anti-men propaganda. Trish Flattery, a broad lump of a woman in tough denims who drank whiskey like a cowboy, was the founder and chief mouthpiece of the Franz Kafka Women’s Collective. Trish had a crush on Kate. Sedge found himself in the unusual position of competing with a woman for the affections of a woman. Never in his life had he met such a rival. She was big, she was mean, she was relentless and as seriously politicised as an intercontinental ballistic missile. Kate was in awe of her. Any time Sedge even ventured a criticism of Trish, Kate would round on him and call him a misogynist. Which he was, kind of, he supposed, in certain situations. But that was entirely beside the point. This was a far more serious matter then mere misogyny. This was a matter of chasing tail and being outrun by a massive woman with amorous intent and politics on her side. Sedge began firing off pistols in all the wrong directions.
“That Women’s Collective is turning you against me,” he said.
Kate’s eyes flashed. He knew immediately he had made a terrible mistake.
“Do you have a problem with the women’s collective?” said Kate.
“No, I think the women’s collective is great,” he replied quickly, his newly oiled and tuned political mechanisms whirring into motion. “It’s time women got equal consideration in everything.”
“You’re lying,” said Kate.”You devious man you. You who started all the wars in history and burnt all the witches. We know what you’re about. We can see right through you.”
He was lying. But not for the reasons that Kate assumed. He feared he was losing her. He rashly suggested that Kate leave the women’s collective.
Kate stared at him
He hurried on saying that he felt that Trish, Holly, Ruby and Sheila, the core of the Franz Kafka Women’s Collective, were turning her against him as part of a wider plan towards the eradication of men.
This, of course was true. He had seen the plan when Victor included it in an article in the Uninvolved News. Trish subscribed to the extreme feminist idea of splitting the world in two, with men in one hemisphere and women in the other. Which gender would get which hemisphere had yet to be decided. Sedge had wondered which he would find more unsettling — all the women moving to the Southern hemisphere, or all the women staying here while he set off on the long, long trek south to try and find a flat somewhere below the equator. Where would he go? Where would he live? Would they have rent allowance? Who would he dance with?
Kate studied Sedge, seeing his male machinations like so many mechanical cogs and wheels behind his oh-so-innocent face. Her eyes glittered. She clamped her mouth closed. Not only did she not reply, she took great pleasure in not replying. Her eyes remained fixed on him for an uncomfortably long time. What he had just said confirmed everything the women’s collective said about men. All his earlier support, his petition signing, his “Yeah, I’m a feminist too,” were all were revealed now as an act, a way of humouring the “little” women in their “little” collective.
The following day Kate brought the matter to the attention of the women’s collective who began to investigate her relationship with Sedge through lengthy interviews with Kate and through close observation of Sedge in the Franz Kafka cafe. It emerged in the course of the investigation that Sedge never cooked; though he did sometimes wash the dishes, sometimes swept the floor, and did the laundry once, as a dare, sometime last year.
“If he washes the dishes, he’ll cook,” said Trish. “He just needs to be pushed a bit.”
“He can’t cook,” said Kate.
“He can learn,” said Trish, and the other women agreed. It was high time men learnt how to cook.
“I never saw a man washing dishes,” said Holly, a small, frightened looking single mother.
It was arranged that the Franz Kafka Women’s Collective would call to Kate some evening to observe Sedge doing the dishes and to help her train him into the idea of cooking.
“A man needs to be house-trained,” said Trish. “And it’s hard to do it on your own. This is something the collective could really get involved in. A man training service.”
“That’s a great idea,” said Holly. “If I’d have had that my whole life might have been entirely different.”